Art Appreciation 1
International Handbook of Research of Arts Education. Liora Bresler, ed.
New York: Springer, 2007, pages 639-654.
Teaching Toward Appreciation
The Ohio State University
The topic of art appreciation is vast: An Internet search of art appreciation
yielded about 3,540,000 results. The complexity of the concept of art appreciation is its
overlap with related concepts of aesthetic response, art history, art criticism, art
education, aesthetic education, and art museum education. Appreciation is also affected
by understandings of concepts of perception, sensibility, interpretation, taste, preference,
and evaluation or judgment. Appreciation is meshed with beauty and beauty to aesthetic
experience. In aesthetic philosophy as well as in daily living, concepts of beauty and
appreciation are applied to nature, works of art, and a wide range of artifacts.
Art appreciation is generally assumed and often explicitly claimed to be the
desired outcome of art education. This chapter attempts to map philosophical terrains of
'art appreciation', exemplify acts of appreciation in the visual arts, briefly explore the
history of teaching for art appreciation in the United States, and sample some educational
strategies for appreciation. The purpose of the chapter is to expand notions of the concept
of art appreciation, to devalue "disinterested" appreciation in favor of engaged
appreciation, to broaden the candidates for appreciation, including an appreciation of the
"interpreting-self" and the "interpreting-other," and to motivate empirical investigations
Stein Olsen's (1988) definitional considerations of appreciation in the
Encyclopedia of Aesthetics can be condensed to "the act of apprehending a work of art
with enjoyment” (p. 66). Appreciation entails valuing, positive or negative; it is
dependent on acquired perception that requires initiation and practice, training one's
sensibilities, and learning how to apply apt vocabulary to distinguish aspects of what is
being appreciated. Succinctly, appreciation requires knowledge. Olsen's definition is
reminiscent of Harry Broudy's (1972) "enlightened cherishing"--"a love of objects and
actions that by certain norms and standards are worthy of our love. It is a love that
knowledge justifies" (p. 6).
Aesthetic (Disinterested) Appreciation
Concepts of appreciation and aesthetic experience have overlapped since the
eighteenth century. One traditionally necessary condition of experiencing something
"aesthetically" is to view it with an attitude of "disinterest," as developed by philosophers
such as William Shaftesbury, Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer, and in the twentieth
century by Clive Bell, Edward Bullough, Monroe Beardsley, and Jerome Stolnitz.
Shaftesbury typifies disinterested appreciation as enjoying something for its own sake
and without wanting to possess it. For Kant, disinterestedness means not caring whether
the object of appreciation even exists.1
Art Appreciation 2
Aesthetic attitude theories conceive of aesthetic experience as an "episode of
exceptional elevation wholly beyond our ordinary understanding of empirical reality"
(Honderich, 1995, p. 8). An aesthetic attitude is independent of anything of utilitarian,
economic value, moral judgment, or idiosyncratic personal emotions. One should view
the object "for its own sake" as the purpose of art is wholly aesthetic. Proper
apprehension may result in an "aesthetic experience," which is, according to Bell, "one of
the most valuable things in the world" (in Wolterstorff, 2004, p. 327).
Recently, traditional aesthetic response theory is contested. George Dickie (1997),
for example, offers a succinct and dismissively sarcastic summary of the concept of
The traditional picture of the aesthetic experience of a work of art goes
like this: the work and the person or subject who is experiencing it are
surrounded by an impenetrable, psychological wall "secreted" by the
subject that experientially nullifies all relations that the work has to things
outside the experience. Aspects of works of art may, and frequently do,
refer, but a 'proper' subject of aesthetic experience cannot take account of
such references. (p. 156)
Developments in art over the last hundred years such as Dadaism, found art,
happenings, Pop Art, Fluxus, performance art, technological art, art of social protest, and
conceptual art have seriously challenged traditional aesthetics. In his rejection of
'aesthetic experience,' Dickey (1997) asserts, "aesthetic experience has a sharp edge that
severs the referential relation to the world beyond it" (p. 147). To Dickie, Arthur Danto
(1994), and Richard Eldridge (2003), traditional aesthetic response theories "tame" art "to
an idle plaything of empty pleasure" (Eldridge, 2003, p. 60). Many theorists see the
philosophical claim that "art is a thing of pleasure" to be a way of simultaneously
"misunderstanding, devaluing, and repressing the real cognitive, political, and spiritual
insights (or wit) that art may have to offer." Eldridge argues that artists "work for the
sake of ideas and insight, not absorption in form" and not for "escapist pleasure" (2003,
Recent philosophers of nature also threaten disinterested appreciation.
Historically, Donald Crawford (2001) tells us, theories of beauty in nature have centered
on four aspects: the human body, natural organisms and objects, natural phenomena, and
scenery. More recently, aesthetic theories of nature do not include the body. Most
recently, appreciation of nature is interested rather than disinterested. Crawford offers
this list of questions that introduce the breadth of possible considerations of nature with
implications for appreciation:
What is it about nature and natural objects that we find aesthetically
interesting or pleasing? Do we respond to beautiful animals, seashells,
flowers, and scenery simply because of their color, texture, and design
characteristics, or is our response guided by scientific knowledge? What
part do our biological and social needs and interests play in the aesthetic
appreciation of nature? How is the aesthetics of nature related to the
aesthetics of fine art? Do we find nature beautiful because it resembles art,
or is art beautiful because it resembles nature? How do aesthetic values
form a part of contemporary environmental and ecological concerns?
Art Appreciation 3
(2001, p. 306)
In considering the complications of nature, Crawford (2001) offers a succinct and
useful summary definition of nature and how aspects of it might be distinguished, written
by Stephanie Ross:
(i) areas of unexplored wilderness (the original "given"), (ii) areas that
were wilderness, have been entered, but haven't been developed, (iii) areas
that have been entered, have been affected by humankind, yet remain
noticeably wilder than other areas in specifiable respects, (iv) areas that
have been entered, developed, but then returned to a more natural state
through careful management. (in Crawford, p. 323)
Although pure nature is often the topic for dialogue, Crawford points out that little
unexplored wilderness remains, and if any exists, it is probably disturbed by human
intervention such as global warming. Pure nature is a possibly useful philosophical
concept, but not a reality. He further complicates the notion of pure nature by citing
hybridization and domestication of animals, and genetic engineering.
Some theorists devalue natural beauty on both philosophical and theological
grounds. Hegel, for example, relegated natural beauty to the lowest end of his scale of
expressiveness of spirit. In some cultures, religious objections to the notion of natural
beauty sometimes emerge with serious consequences: because of the biblical "fall," for
example, some see striking land formations, like mountains, as God’s punitive response
to sin. Accordingly, after expulsion from Eden, humans experienced lands resistant to
agriculture and became vulnerable to natural disasters. The biblical book of Isaiah (4:4)
joyously anticipates when "every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked
shall be made straight, and the rough places plain." Isaiah sets nature and humans in
conflict, and justifies humankind in radically altering nature to suit perceived human
needs, even to the detriment of Earth.
Recent aestheticians (e.g., Berleant, 1997; Eaton, 1997; Carlson, 2005) hold that
appreciation of nature must be informed by knowledge provided by science and ecology,
rather than being merely dependent on emotion, physical involvement, and meditative
reflection. We ought to be aware of “natural forces deserving of our appreciation and
warranting our respect in the form of minimal interference” (Crawford, 2001, p. 309).
These qualifications tie ethics to aesthetics and reject the concept of aesthetic disinterest.
Appreciation and Knowledge
Some fear that overanalyzing something will kill it. Nobel physicist Richard
Feynman (1999), however, rebuts an artist friend who maintains that a scientist could
only take apart a beautiful thing, like a flower, and not appreciate its beauty. To the
contrary, Feynman argues,
I see much more about the flower than he sees. I can imagine the cells in
there, the complicated actions inside which also have beauty. I mean it's
not just beauty at this dimension of one centimeter, there is also beauty at
a smaller dimension, the inner structure. Also the process, the fact that the
colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is
interesting—it means that insects can see color…a science knowledge
only adds to the excitement and mystery and the awe of a flower…I don't
understand how it subtracts. (p. 2)
Art Appreciation 4
Beliefs in the cognitive import of the arts are very old. Both Plato's (1961) and
Aristotle's (1941) theories of art, for example, are embedded in their metaphysical and
epistemological theories. Appreciation, both positive (Aristotle) and negative (Plato), is
dependent on interpretation. Plato's critique of art is highly dependent on his ethical
theory, particularly the moral consequences of a work on an audience.
Appreciation and God
Many appreciators of nature, and some of art, include notions of God in their
appreciative considerations. Plato's "Form of Beauty" is located in the divine. Kant's
aesthetic philosophy derives from his metaphysical beliefs, which include God's
purposive system of nature, God's "unfathomably great art" (in Dickie, 1997, p. 21).
Bell, the prototypical Formalist of the twentieth century, asserts that the importance of
"significant form" is that through its recognition "we become aware of its essential
reality, of the God in everything" (in Wolterstorff, p. 327).
Appreciation, Ethics, and Politics
Socially critical aesthetic theories, including feminism, multiculturalism,
Orientalism, colonialism, and queer theory merge aesthetic and ethical concerns, and
reject "distancing" oneself in the face of art. These theories consider all art to be subject
to moral concerns and political critiques. To deny the social content of art that is
expressly made as political is to miss its point.
Some skeptics of "the aesthetic" (e.g., Bourdieu, 1984) hold that concepts of
aesthetic value, taste, and appreciation are the result of upper-class cultural dominance.
Sociologists find correlations between elitist tastes and social class membership,
reinforcing a Marxist position that such taste is "a mere epiphenomenon without
objective aesthetic basis, or, more sinister, a strategy for maintaining the sharp distinction
between the upper class and others" (Goldman, 2004, p. 95). Indeed, class comes to mind
when reading accounts that exemplify aesthetic appreciation by many authors today who
cite connoisseurs of fine wine as exemplar appreciators.
Insider and Outsider Appreciation
One consequence of aesthetic attitude theories is that they tend to encourage the
perception of art apart from its origins and purposes and to see it only as form, rather than
as having specific and special meaning for its makers and original users. Religious
objects from different times and places, for example, are torn from their original contexts
and decontextualized in museums. Art critic Thomas McEvilley (1984) negatively
reviewed a "blockbuster" exhibition, "Primitivism" in Twentieth-Century Art: Affinity of
the Tribal and the Modern, which displayed tribal works from around the world along
with modern art made by Picasso and others to demonstrate affinity between the modern
and "the primitive." McEvilley raised questions about the intent and execution of the
show, especially the museum's decision of providing no anthropological information
about the tribal objects in the exhibition, reducing them to objects for formalist
contemplation. He chastised the museum for failing to show differences between the
views of the tribal participant and the outside observer by "art historians, engrossed as
they seem to be in the exercise of their particular expertise, the tracings of stylistic
relationships and chronologies" (p. 157).
Appreciating the Interpretive-self and the Interpreting-other
Hans-Georg Gadamer, in the Hegelian tradition, asserts that responding to art is a
mode of self-understanding.
Art Appreciation 5
Our experience of the aesthetic too is a mode of self-understanding. Self-
understanding always occurs through understanding something other than
the self, and includes the unity and integrity of the other. Since we meet
the artwork in the world and encounter a world in the individual artwork,
the work of art is not some alien universe into which we are magically
transported for a time. Rather, we learn to understand ourselves in and
through it. (1998, p. 92)
Further, Gadamer argues, "the work of art has its true being in the fact that it becomes an
experience that changes the person who experiences it" (1998, p. 93).
In recent Pragmatism, Richard Rorty argues that there should be no difference
between appreciating a work and using it to better one's life and to rearrange one's
priorities. “Interpreting something, knowing it, penetrating to its essence, and so on are
all just various ways of describing some process of putting it to work” (in Barrett, 2003,
Concomitant with greater self-knowledge and resulting appreciation of the
changing self, one can also come to better know and appreciate others through their
interpretations. To read or hear others' interpretations provides the possibility of learning
about those interpreters as well as the work: How they think, what they notice, what they
value and why, and their views of the world.
Examples of Appreciation
An Appreciation by a Cultural Historian
A landscape painting serves as an example of the need to intermix ethics,
aesthetics, and scientific knowledge to appreciate it as it was painted. Alexis Rockman's
Manifest Destiny (2004) is an 8 by 24 foot mural that shows Brooklyn, New York,
submerged in water in the year 5000 after three millennia of global warming. The
depiction is eerily devoid of humans while new bioengineered species thrive, as do
deadly viruses and bacteria that float across the flooded surface. Cultural historian
Maurice Berger (2004) interpretively appreciates the painting as "haunting" and identifies
it as "an amalgam of science and aesthetics" informed by the artist's consultations with
"ecologists, paleontologists, biologists, archeologists, and architects to help him create an
accurate rendering" (p. 8). Both the artist and the admiring critic are engaged rather than
removed, distanced, or detached. Berger's vocabulary in reference to the painting includes
terms with ethical connotations: "greed," "selfishness," "shortsightedness,"
"indifference," "ignorance," and "complacency" (p. 15). In the view of this artist and
critic, to appreciate is to know and care about the world outside of the painting itself.
An Appreciation by an Artist
Andy Goldsworthy (2004), the Scottish artist who works directly in and with
natural environments, recounts his struggle with a temporary piece he built in the woods--
the tip of an abandoned quarried stone that he covered with torn wet red leaves--and his
challenge to make the piece work in the dappled light of the forest floor: "I have learned a
lot this week and have made progress in understanding a quality of light that I have never
previously been able to deal with properly." After twenty-eight years, he realized that
"not understanding a woodland floor on a sunny day has represented a serious gap in my
perception of nature" (p. 74).
From this example we can infer that artmaking for Goldsworthy is a process of
discovery and not a rendering of preconceived knowledge or experience. The artist is
Art Appreciation 6
making art in order to better understand what he is making art about. Through his
artmaking he comes to a better understanding of an aspect of the world and how to render
it in visual form. His verbal insights about light exemplify the artist's acute knowledge
and appreciation of subtleties in the world, and points to properties to which we might
An Appreciation by an Art Critic
Art critic Richard Kalina (2002) attends closely to one of Joan Mitchell's
nonobjective paintings, George Went Swimming. Despite its title, the painting has no
recognizable subject matter. The critic describes its composition of two sections, its
brushstrokes, and its colors: "…A zone of smeared blue pushes in from the upper right
corner, destabilizing the composition, giving the brushwork it impinges on a frenetic
quality. The painting alternates markedly between warm and cool, evoking heated air and
frigid water, the weather's changeability and, by implication, restlessness and
uncertainty" (p. 92). Kalina's writing exemplifies an apprehension with enjoyment that is
dependent on acquired perceptual ability and an apt vocabulary (Olsen, 1998).
An Appreciation by an Art Collector
Steve Martin (2004), the American comedic actor, writer, and art collector recalls
a drawing he acquired.
It was done in fine pencil, extreme in detail, a monochromatic rainbow of
gray gradients on white paper. The picture had its heart in Surrealism,
more akin to the Russian Pavel Tchelitchew than Dali, though the quality
of the draftsmanship rivaled Dali at his best. The drawing was done in the
early 40's, before Abstract Expressionism obliterated the art world's need
for academic drawing. It had other roots too. There was something old
master-ish about it, Bosch-like, reminiscent of a dark etching emerging
from the style of a 16th-century obsessive… (p. 24)
Martin's appreciation demonstrates historical knowledge that he brings to inform his
judgment of the drawing as "an exceptional artwork." He notices details and nuances, but
while attending to the representational ability of the artist, he is not a "sucker" for skill
apart from its use to express meaning.
Appreciation and Education: A Sampling
A History of Art Appreciation in Education in the United States
Examining the history of art teaching in the United States, Mary Anne
Stankiewicz (2001) found that instruction in aesthetics, art history, and art appreciation
are conflated, and that the general purpose of teaching these areas was to improve morals
and manners. The development of good taste and the ability to appreciate art and nature
was thought to elevate the spirit and improve the taste of the nation. Those of the middle-
class are to emulate the tastes and manners of the upper-class.
Lecturers in early nineteenth century colleges taught aesthetics as moral
philosophy, classical art history in classical language classes, and modern art in modern
language departments. At Harvard University in 1874, Charles Elliot Norton taught art
history within the humanities, with three goals: “1) to explain how the fine arts expressed
the moral and intellectual conditions of past cultures; 2) to demonstrate how the barren
American experience starved the creative spirit; and 3) to refine the sensibilities of
Harvard men” (Stankiewicz, 2001, p. 110). The Boston Museum of Fine Art was founded
Art Appreciation 7
in 1870, and its goals mirrored those of the educators. Courses in the history of art
became especially popular in women’s colleges at this time.
During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, secondary school teachers taught
art history and appreciation to refine young people's morals and manners. Before World
War One, most high school students were upper-middle-class women, and knowledge of
art history was to prepare them to become art patrons and advocates of refined culture.
According to Stankiewicz (2001), “aesthetic didacticism—that is, the belief that art can
teach right behavior” entered the twentieth century through texts and lectures for
secondary students and those studying to be teachers based on "unquestioned
assumptions of superiority and progress, a literacy of aspiration to help middle- and
lower-class students emulate upper-class taste, rather than the liberating literacy of
drawing or the critical literacy advocated by some art educators today" (p. 112).
Knowledge of facts was expected of the students, but the most important goal was that
students appreciate "the good."
With the advent of mechanical reproductions of works of art and their widespread
distribution, participants in a "picture study movement" decorated schools and offered
direct study of (reproductions of) works of art. From the mid 1890s to the 1920s, teachers
and volunteer "picture ladies" used "masterpieces" to develop children's "character and
taste" (Stankiewicz, Amburgy, & Bolin, 2004).
Within the picture study movement, Estelle Hurll (1914) offers attitudes and
assumptions which prefigure recent practices. In How to Show Pictures to Children, Hurll
poses the "first rule" of not talking down to children, especially in selecting pictures (p.
5), and choosing pictures that children like because of subject matter and narratives
interesting to them. Pictures outside the range of children's interests should not be forced
upon them. Although she maintains "pictures are primarily intended for pure aesthetic
joy" (p. 5), that children should be taught how pictures are technically and
compositionally made, that a picture may be considered "quite apart" from its subject so
as to admire its composition (p. 25), she also distinguishes between "subject and art," and
asserts "the word art is not a synonym for prettiness or sentimentality" (p. 23). Although
influenced by Arthur Wesley Dow (1899), a formulator of "elements of art" and
"principles of design," Hurll does not elevate compositional concerns above all else: "The
critical analysis of a picture would be a sad process if it were the end and object of our
interest" (1914, p. 25).
Hurll advocates use of images in popular magazines, prefiguring later art
educators' interests in popular culture and in visual culture studies (e.g., Duncum &
Bracey, 2001; Tavin, 2003). She also advocates that children write about art, as do recent
art educators (e.g., Wilson, 1986; Barrett, 1994; Stout, 1995). "Picture study" advocates
instrumental goals of developing character; visual culturists advocate social justice (e.g.,
Tavin, 2003). Current art educators have answered questions about learner's cognitive
developmental abilities regarding understandings of art with implications for its
appreciation (e.g., Winner, 1982; Parsons, 1987; Efland, 2004).
The majority of developmental studies, however, have been directed toward the
production of art rather than its reception. Norman Freeman (2004), however, provides an
overview of "pictorial reasoning" and "aesthetic reasoning" which occasionally bear on
issues of interpretation and thus appreciation. Anna Kindler's (2004) overview of
Art Appreciation 8
developmental research touches on developments in "artistic thinking" and has
implications for interpretation and appreciation, and not just production of artifacts.
College Art Appreciation Courses
Professors of introductory art history and appreciation courses are increasingly
reexamining their practices for educational efficacy (e.g., Lindner, 2005; College Art
Association, 2005). The Cheese Monkeys, a novel by Chipp Kidd (2001), a professor of
design, describes what may be many students' unfortunate experiences in such courses.
Following is an excerpt of one young man's exposure to modern art as taught by
Professor Mistelle ("Misty").
During what was to become a pivotal moment for me at State, Misty put
one of the silliest paintings I had ever seen up on the screen. It was of
five…figures. You could tell that they were supposed to be people because
they had eyes. At least three of them were female, sporting pointy boobs
the shape of horizontal midget dunce caps. The one farthest to the left
apparently started out as a Negro, but the artist changed his mind when he
got to the neck and made the rest of her white, pink, apricot, and deep rust.
These she-things looked stunned, as if they'd just been told they all
had cervical cancer. And the two on the right were racked with skin
problems the likes of which I prayed I'd never know. The whole thing
appeared to have been abandoned far from completion, the artist having
come to his senses and taken up something less ghastly, like infanticide.
"This," Mistelle announced, "is Picasso's Les Demoiselles
d'Avignon. 1907." (pp. 67-68)
The professor continued his lecture, all of which merged into what the student
characterized as "a continual membrane of ambiguous declaration" (p. 68). The student
came to realize "something strange was happening to me. I was starting to feel
ashamed… stupid." In the fictional student’s experience, who was taking the elective
course to appreciate modern art, he came instead to appreciate that he was an “idiot” and
that modern paintings were “unknowable" (p. 68).
Appreciation in Methods Textbooks for Teachers
There are many well-intentioned but vague claims and exhortations in "methods"
textbooks about teaching art, preschool through 12th grade. For example, early in her
textbook on teaching art to elementary education students, Joan Koster (2001) writes:
“Students need to learn how to appreciate art and to understand how being
knowledgeable in art can enrich their lives” (p. 17). She neither explicitly explains what
appreciation will entail nor how knowledge of art enriches students’ lives.
Some art educators are more explicit when writing about art appreciation. In their
textbook for teaching art in elementary schools, Al Hurwitz and Michael Day (1995)
define art appreciation:
the word appreciate means "valuing" or having a sense of an object's worth
through the familiarity one gains by sustained, guided study. Appreciation
also involves the acquisition of knowledge related to the object, the artist, the
materials used, the historical and stylistic setting, and the development of a
critical sense. (pp. 309-310)
Hurwitz and Day connect appreciating with valuing that requires knowledge. They
weaken relations of appreciating and knowing, however, when they write: "Knowledge,
Art Appreciation 9
however, is not a precondition for deriving pleasure from works of art--if it were, people
would not collect African or Asian art or anything else about which they know little but
which nevertheless has the power to capture and hold their attention" (p. 311).
The claim that making art increases one’s appreciation for art is also
commonplace. For example, Koster (2001) states, as if it were self-evident and without
need of argumentation or evidence, "In creating their own art, students learn how artists
think in the context of reflecting and analyzing their own artistic productions" (p. 434).
Hurwitz and Day (1995) explicitly promote the idea that art teachers should teach
toward appreciation of art by teaching artmaking skills, but they do not assume that there
is an automatic transference from students making art to students appreciating art: to
attain such a goal, teachers must teach for it. In support of consciously teaching toward
appreciation, the authors cite Manuel Barkan and Laura Chapman who in 1967 argued for
balancing making and reflecting as mutually reinforcing, asserting that neither one is
sufficient without the other.
Aesthetic Education at the Lincoln Center Institute
The Lincoln Center Institute in New York City is an example of a program
developed and refined over a twenty-five year period. It is dedicated to "aesthetic
education" that provides students with experiential studies of actual works of art (not
reproductions), including dance, music, theater, film, visual arts, and architecture. The
Institute's philosophy and practices are predominantly based on philosophical and
psychological theories of Maxine Greene (2001), Howard Gardner (1999), and John
Dewey (1934). The Institute's repertory from which teachers may choose changes yearly,
and is broad in range, including works by the Paul Taylor Dance Company,
Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," and Alfred Hitchock's "Notorious," among many others.
The strength of the Institute is the performing arts; visual art experiences are provided by
local art museums. Its philosophy is to submerge young audiences in a variety of
authentic works of art that yield transformative aesthetic experiences.
Expanding the Boundaries of Appreciation
The proper place for considerations within art education of the aesthetic is
currently contested. As Parsons (2005) makes clear, some art educators place it centrally
(e.g., Eisner, 2002), and some toward the side (e.g., Efland, 2002). The role of the
aesthetic is unresolved in visual culture literature (e.g., Tavin, 2003; Efland, 2005).
Most of the examples of appreciating artifacts and nature in this chapter require
and entail engaged appreciation, rather than distancing oneself from everything but the
"formal" or "aesthetic" properties of a work of art. Even appreciation of art made under
Formalist theory requires knowledge of art history (Danto, 1981). To disengage from the
meanings and implications of any work of art, and especially works made to be
politically confrontational, is to tame them beyond recognition. A morally and
ecologically sound appreciation of nature requires engaged participation. When we study
visual culture it is not for the purpose of being washed over with an aesthetic glaze.
A Broadened Canon
Appreciation has been confined too narrowly to "high" or "fine" art. The canon,
nevertheless, has been broadened in the past by art educators such as Estelle Hurll,
Vincent Lanier (e.g., 1982) who advocated film study, June King McFee and Rogena
Degge (1977) who attended appreciatively and critically in their methods book to the
Art Appreciation 10
built environment and different cultural groups, and Laura Chapman (1978) who, in her
methods book, included discussions of a gas station, doll houses, and commercial
television. Currently, art educators who advocate the study of visual culture in art
education include a wide range of artifacts beyond those collected by art museums. Doug
Blandy and Kristin Congdon (2005) advocate the study of kitsch, which is usually
associated with bad taste, and generally avoided by art teachers.
Nature and Art Education
Charles Garoian (1998) critically considers the aesthetics of land use in art
education as it should be affected by ecological understanding and care. When
considering pedagogical strategies for teaching elementary school students about
constructing environmental art, Karen Keifer-Boyd (2002) asks children these questions
which she adopts from eco-feminists: "Where did the material originate? Are the
materials biodegradable? Were any species exploited in the production of the material
applied to the art process?" (p. 331).
Peter London's writing on teaching art with and about nature includes engaged
concerns: "Nature Matters. The apples and pears in the still life, the model on the stand,
the trees and hills are not merely bumps and depressions of hues. They are alive…they
are all speaking and have things to tell us that we should attend to" (2004, p. 39).
Appreciating Individual Artists and Cultural Groups
Lawrence Weschler (1982), in his biography of Robert Irwin, offers a compelling
example of all that can be learned and appreciated by seeing through the eyes of an artist,
his culture, intentions, successes, frustrations, as well as his individual works of art. The
title of Weschler's book, Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, is a poetic
variant definition of "aesthetic experience," but Weschler is clearly engaged in his
appreciation of the artist and his work. The book is reminiscent of ground-breaking
empirical work relevant to appreciation by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (1990) on "flow."
Art educators Graeme Chalmers (2004) and Patricia Stuhr (1994), among others,
advocate teaching art as a means for social change through cultural knowledge of
artifacts and people who produce them. Chalmers (2004), for example, identified cultural
goals for teachers of art that include "strategies that correct and redress feelings of
cultural superiority," "encourage students to make art that challenges racist beliefs of
individuals," and "challenge students' assumptions about people who seem 'different'"
(pp. 9-10). Stuhr (1988) and Jacqueline Chanda (1993), among others, explore how
indigenous peoples appreciate their artifacts.
Paul Bolin (1995) advocates study of material culture within art education,
defining the term to encompass all non-natural objects. The purpose of such study is
"offering interpretations about people who make, use, respond to, and preserve these
artifacts" in order to "provide students with a range of ways to consider the artifact itself,
and more importantly, its maker" (n. p.).
Teaching for Empathic Appreciation
Candace Stout (2001) advocates explicitly teaching art so that students care about
people and the world. In building a "moral-cognitive curriculum," she is influenced
especially by Maxine Greene. Stout developed and taught a course to high school
students in which all learning activities were "intended to evoke empathic response to
fellow human beings as well as to other creatures with whom we share this earth" (p. 84).
She observed changes in her students: they showed desire to learn more about artists,
Art Appreciation 11
they listened to the ideas of others, showed signs of respect for difference, became more
reflective, expressive, and invested with their own experiences. Stout was able to effect
caring, however difficult that is to measure, by planning and teaching directly for it.
The following quotation is a specific example of the results of directly teaching
for an understanding of another person by examining that person's art. Jean Giacolone, a
master's student in art education, responds to a self-portrait by Maria Magdalana
Campos-Pons, a Cuban woman of African descent. In the large Polaroid photograph, the
artist has "slimed" herself, and has these words hand-written across her chest:
"IDENTITY COULD BE A TRAGEDY." After examining the photograph in an art
gallery, Giacolone wrote about the picture pretending she was the skin of the subject:
I have been given too much importance in the world. I wrap this woman,
warm her, and cool her. I expand with her every breath. The color I give
her is from Mendel's lottery—a toss of the protean dice. She is sometimes
so proud of my flawless surface and other times I feel if she had a zipper
she would step right out of me, and leave me on the floor. Would she then
be freer, less conflicted? I glow for her. Be proud of your heritage. If I am
your identity I am only the beginning—the wrapper. When you covered
me with goo, were you mocking me or paying homage to the origin of our
brown-ness? I want you to come to terms with me. I will not take the fall
for this—I am not your tragic flaw. (in Barrett, 2005, p. 192)
Giacolone's spontaneous writing in front of an artwork is an example of empathic
interpretation and appreciation, both of an artwork and what it expresses, and of a living
person who is the subject of the work.
Art Education, the Interpretive-self, and Interpretive-communities
While taking an art education course on teaching criticism and aesthetics, upon
request of the instructor, a student pretended to be some specific thing in a painting and
to express insights about the painting from her assumed perspective. Shari chose to be a
small tree hanging off the edge of a high cliff in a Chinese landscape painting, and wrote
about the landscape as if she were the tree. When she read her paragraph aloud to the
class, Shari's voice faltered. "When reading this aloud I almost started to cry. I realized I
was writing about myself." Shari is a survivor of a life-threatening form of cancer.
I wrote my interpretation as the tree clinging to the cliff. When I read it,
the tree was not speaking any longer. I was. No one else listening would
understand what it had become for me, but it changed and I had to
acknowledge the power of this discovery. By tapping into a place I like to
keep at bay, the examination of this painting unleashed a truth that is
uniquely mine and painful to explore. I was forced to see my fear, and for
the first time to admit that I don't fully believe I have left it behind. It
exists in places and things I can't escape and perhaps I'm not supposed to.
(personal communication, fall 2004)
Through interpretation of a landscape Shari better knows herself, and when she shares her
insight others can experience a person being vulnerably human.
Appreciation is a complex act of cognition that is dependent on relevant
knowledge of what is appreciated. Full appreciation involves engagement with what is
appreciated, and such engagement involves knowledge of various sorts, including
Art Appreciation 12
emotion that informs knowledge (Scheffler, 1991). Appreciation ought not be set apart
from moral implications of what is being appreciated. Distanced versus engaged
appreciation need not be an either-or choice: both can provide useful lenses toward
understanding (Brand, 1998), but distanced appreciation is insufficient. Appreciation
results from an act of judgment, and a responsive judgment (positive or negative) is
dependent on an interpretation. Any interpretation is "preformed, prejudiced, interested,
partial, horizontal, incapable of reaching any straightforwardly neutral or objective
account of what is interpreted" (Honderich, 1995, p. 13).
Appreciation within art education is too narrowly focused on fine art and ought to
be broadened to include nature as environment, artifacts of more kinds, individuals who
make and perform, and cultural influences on the makers' expressive activities.
Appreciation might also include knowledge of the appreciating-self and the appreciating-
other who publicly expresses her or his observations. Because appreciations are
prejudiced, interested, and partial, by examining what and why we value, we can learn
about ourselves and others and if, how, and why values differ.
Appreciation ought not be assumed to be a natural and inevitable outcome of art
education. If it is important to teachers, teachers ought to design their curricula so that
appreciation is taught for and assessed (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). Making something
does not necessarily result in appreciation, and when an artmaking experience is negative,
artmaking may result in acquisition of negative attitudes. When making-experiences are
positive for the makers, this does not guarantee their appreciation of other things of that
kind, nor transfer of that specific appreciation to all things.
Appreciation is a complex phenomenon deserving of continued research about if,
when, and how learners achieve appreciation in their present lives, what and who they
appreciate, and if it lasts through their lifetimes. Such investigations ought to include
philosophical clarifications of what counts as appreciation, appreciation within visual
culture studies, anthropological studies of indigenous appreciators, historical studies of
international education and appreciation, concepts of appreciation in disciplines other
than art, cognitive studies of appreciating individuals and groups, case studies of schools
and programs claiming appreciation as an outcome, issues of appreciation and social
change, and longitudinal studies to assess life-long learning that continues to result in
appreciations of newly experienced objects, events, and people.
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Art Appreciation 16
For overviews of theories of aesthetic experience, see relevant entries in the
Encyclopedia of aesthetics (1998). New York: Oxford. See also any of a number of
anthologies of aesthetic philosophy such as those edited by Carolyn Korsmeyer (1998),
Peter Kivy (2004), and David Goldblatt & Lee Brown (2005).
For an overview of the contested concept of aesthetic experience, see Richard
Shusterman (1997), a current Pragmatist philosopher who is aware of the concept's
limitations but who argues for its relevance. See also Gary Iseminger's (2003) discussion
of the strengths and weakness of the concept, which includes overviews of current
debates between Shusterman, Dickie, and other contemporary theorists.